This blog’s tagline is “Our Top 40 past . . . in the present.” Many of the nearly 1,700 posts that have appeared here in nine years find us measuring the distance from there, wherever “there” is, to our current moment, here.
I was thinking about that distance earlier this week when I watched a piece of video that’s surfaced recently, apparently the earliest surviving color footage of a major-league baseball game. It’s the last two-plus innings of a game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on August 19, 1965, a game in which Jim Maloney of the Reds threw a 10-inning no-hitter at Wrigley Field. There’s a lot to love in the video, which runs about an hour. As an old Cubs fan, I was pleased to listen to Jack Brickhouse and Lloyd Pettit again, as I did when I was a boy. The Hamms beer commercials were as delightful as I remember them—and there was only one commercial between each half-inning. The broadcast has no graphics, just a shot of Wrigley’s iconic scoreboard at the end of each half-inning. The play-by-play is incidental to the video, as Brickhouse and Pettit assume the viewer can see what’s going on, and more important, understand it. The two veteran broadcasters share play-by-play inning by inning; when one is working, the other is quiet, and there is no color commentator. The broadcast is almost soothing in its minimalism. It’s as if some guys have simply gotten up a game on a summer afternoon, and since we don’t have anything else to do, we’ll watch it.
Later the same day, I sat down to watch Monday Night Football. I don’t know if it had to do with the 1965 tape I had watched that morning, but I lasted about half-an-hour before I turned the TV off in disgust because it was wearing me out. Monday Night Football is the opposite of minimalist. It has too much of everything—too many graphics, too many commercials, too much opinion, too much presence. You can’t turn it on and leave it on as background, because it keeps elbowing itself into the foreground: did you see that, watch this, look over here, and most insufferable of all, LISTEN TO ME. Talking talking talking always talking, as if ESPN fears more than five seconds of silence will cause the whole show to turn to smoke and blow away. It’s not entertaining, it’s exhausting. And it insults us as viewers, treating us like children or pets who will only pay attention if they wave shiny stuff in our faces.
The great broadcasters of the past, both individual men and the TV partners that employed them, understood that one’s level of insight is not equal to the number of words one speaks, or how insistently one speaks them. The distance between there and here can be measured in noise, or the lack of it.
Plausibly Related: We’ll stay in distance-measuring mode for the next several years now; the Kennedy anniversary on Friday is merely the first in a half-decade of significant baby-boomer anniversaries unrolling in front of us. But what we see as milestones are not always as significant as we think they were. Similarly, they are sometimes significant in ways that are different than we think. Slate published a terrific piece this week suggesting that our perception of the Kennedy assassination and the coming of the Beatles as moments at which history broke in a different direction is a perception that wasn’t shared by people 50 years ago. Even now, both events retain a great deal of continuity with what went before, and in some ways they didn’t change a thing.